Poem of the Week
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    • New York City subway

Each week, the Guardian's Carol Rumen picks her favorite poem of the week, and this time, it's Institute Fellow Katha Pollitt's Night Subway. Pollitt, Rumen writes, "is an acclaimed journalist as well as poet. When I first encountered her verse, I didn't know this, or anything else about her, but it was like meeting a friend. Pollitt's poems sometimes take us on difficult journeys. They're often emotionally stirring. But the tone — and I suppose this is the key to likability — is modest, comedy-conscious, and generous towards individuals and the human condition in general. This week's poem, Night Subway, is an example of her more serious mode."

Rumen goes on to describe the characters populating the poem, and ends with these lines:

"I've chosen a poem that reveals Pollitt's human warmth and her ability to take imaginative, connective leaps in time. For all the likability of her work, I've found many poems which caused the hairs on the back of my neck to tingle, and this is one of them."

Night Subway

The nurse coming off her shift at the psychiatric ward
nodding over the Post, her surprisingly delicate legs
shining darkly through the white hospital stockings,
and the Puerto Rican teens, nuzzling, excited
after heavy dates in Times Square, the girl with green hair,
the Hasid from the camera store, who mumbles
over his prayerbook the nameless name of God,
sitting separate, careful no woman should touch him,
even her coat, even by accident,
the boy who squirms on his seat to look out the window
where signal lights wink and flash like the eyes of dragons
while his mother smokes, each short, furious drag
meaning Mens no good they tell you anything –

How not think of Xerxes, how he reviewed his troops
and wept to think that of all those thousands of men
in their brilliant armour, their spearpoints bright in the sun,
not one would be alive in a hundred years?

O sleepers above us, river
rejoicing in the moon, and the clouds passing over the moon.

Read the full article here.

Tags: guardian, katha pollitt, mind-body problem, poetry

    • Katha Pollitt
    • Katha Pollitt is the author of seven books, three of which are collections of political essays and columns: Reasonable Creatures (Vintage, 1995); Subject to Debate (Modern Library, 2001); and Virginity or Death! (Random House, 2006). Her most recent book,

    • Katha Pollitt's full bio »

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